Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Diary: Friday morning at the market as a Turkish tourist

Friday, 10:30 am: Walked to bank to pay KEK (electricity bill) and wire money to my mom to deposit to my bank account.

11:14 am: Practiced ignoring line of 10 + angry Kosovars waiting to wire money.  Composed chapter of how to win friends and influence people in Kosova.

11:15 am: Smiled in response to five dirty looks from people waiting OUTSIDE the bank to wire money.

11:30 am: American friend and I joined a Turkish tour group.  Surrounded and photographed an elderly Albanian man in traditional hat.

11:35 am: Turkish tourists began to suspect they had not seen Sarahann and I on their bus...

11:41 am: "They're probably a Muslim group, going to the mosque to pray." ~ Sarahann

11:42 am: Turned off camera and ditched Turkish tourists outside mosque when they entered to pray.  All about respect.

11:45 am:  Continued on way to the market. Quickly turned on camera and circled back to grab a photo of little man in blue, who saw me coming and picked up his pace.

11:46 am:  Got'im

11:51 am: Made it to the market, yelled at for taking photos. (See earlier entry re: winning friends.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holding close the narrow-nosed, claw-footed creature

Walking with my neighbor Lena of Kazakhstan after lunch in downtown Prishtina, I shared a recent, rather bizarre dream I'd had.  Did you dream it last night? she asked.  No. I thought back in my week.  On Wednesday night.  Oh, she said.  You should pay special attention to dreams you have on Thursdays through Sundays.  Why, I asked, wondering if those cigarettes she'd smoked were packed with something more potent than tobacco.  They tell you more, they mean more, she said.  It's just something about the cycle of time.

Hmm.  I continued to share about the small dog I had adopted in my dream.  It was soft, small and furry, but its head kept shape-shifting into an anteater's, with a long, skinny nose. I had to hold it close to my chest all the time, and when I took it outside to go to the bathroom, it fell into a puddle of rain water and started to drown. I snatched it up and squeezed its little brown body like a balloon, so that water squirted out its long nose. It sputtered and started breathing again, its little feet turning into the claws of a lizard, gripping my fingers as if it would never let go.

Lena thought about the dream as we turned into the alley on the way to our apartment building. Just hearing this, she said, I think there's someone in your life who has to make a change, make a decision. And this decision might hurt other people.  But the person has to choose.  She paused.  I think this person will choose what is best for herself/himself, even if it hurts other people.

At the time, I'd found her interpretation interesting, as I had a friend in a job he didn't like, and I wondered whether his choice to quit or stay would hurt loved ones or colleagues.

A week later, I think the dream may have been more personal than that.

Since I arrived in Kosovo a month ago, I've been struggling, not only to adapt to the culture, the "Albanian" way of communicating and interacting, but to my teaching job. I feel overwhelmed, exhausted. When I'm not teaching class, trying to convince adults not to interrupt or speak over each other, while simultaneously explaining the rules of when to use the past perfect continuous verb tense, I'm prepping, trying to understand how to be a more creative teacher. I've never taught before, and so much is unknown.

I'm an introvert by nature. Some people are surprised when I say this, unless you've roomed with me, and know how much time I spend alone.  I love people, I love talking to new people, hearing their stories, but I most love one-on-one time, to really engage and get to know them.  And after that hour with someone?  I spend two or four hours by myself, processing and recharging.

After three weeks of teaching, the exhaustion and feeling of being overwhelmed was getting worse.  It seemed a good time for my psyche to add anxiety and panic attacks to the mix.  I like my students, I'm sure they're good people, I just want them to stop asking me questions.  To stop expecting me to have all the answers.

Maaaaaybe teaching isn't for me.

Within a week I had made my decision to return to the U.S. It wasn't only to find a different job and escape the bad evaluations of my teaching style. I was reminded of another, more practical conversation with Lena of Kazakhstan.  You're going to have to decide whether you're living abroad or in the U.S., she told me.  You're going to have to choose.  The longer you're away, the harder it is to return. You need to decide where you want to create community.

Lena seems prone to seeing the negative side of things, and making pronouncements. But this stuck with me.  I want to travel, to see new places, meet new people, share their stories through my writing.  But I want to be in community with my family and friends, to honor and foster the long-term friendships that have shaped my life. To be present for major occasions, the birth of a baby, a birthday, an anniversary, as well as everyday occasions, little revelations over cups of coffee and unexpected laughter.  I want to create this community at home, and continue to travel to expand my understanding of it in the world.

I don't want to hurt the friends I have to say goodbye to here, but I believe that you can only give real love and joy from a healthy, full reserve in yourself.  Looking back at the dream where I reached into the water to rescue the drowning, sputtering animal who couldn't pull itself out, I realize I may be both that little, narrow-nosed, furry, claw-footed creature, and its caretaker. 

The life you save may be your own. (Flannery O'Connor)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Invitation to Novelty

I often take brain breaks from my lesson planning, my eyes crossed from internet searches, hunting for a creative way to teach the present continuous.  Leave space in the lesson, a friend and former ESL teacher in China told me.  That way the students have room to create as well.  It's hard for me to do this. I fear sitting in a quiet room, all eyes on me, waiting for me to impart knowledge.  But when I DO leave space for creativity, wonderful conversations happen. Stories of falling in love, a debate about the best age to get married, a lesson in Albanian culture about family planning (you must keep trying til you have a boy).  And how much all of this has changed in the last ten years.

John O'Donohue writes about advice given him by a philosopher of science.  "Try to discover a few questions in this area that no one has thought of asking, then (you) will have discovered something truly original and important. This advice was an invitation to novelty, an inspiration to perceive a given situation in a completely new way."

I want to ask new questions about why I am here, what it means, what life is like for Kosovars, 10 years after the war.  I want to introduce my students to the opportunities of imagination, in studying and in the workplace.  Yesterday I wrote an excerpt on the board of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "When Death Comes."  Grim subject, you say?  The language book was introducing the idea of a "bucket list," things you want to do before you kick the bucket.  So after teaching the class of hospital administrators and public health students another crazy American idiom, we read through the poem on the board.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver

There was a pause after the students finished reading the stanzas aloud.  This is beautiful, one said.  I like this very much.  Can I get a copy?

In that moment I saw not only how important imagination is to everyone's day and workplace, but how important it is for me, in my current work teaching.  To share something that means so much to me, and see another person, almost a stranger to me, who has lived through and seen so much pain, fear, anger and tyranny of humanity, respond in a similar way. 

I reminded them to look for the details of life, that we'd be using more poetry and story to improve our writing and our work, how we see the world.  In the words of Mary Oliver, "Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."

Cows grazing on the hospital grounds

Ferris Wheel of Death?  Just outside hospital, hearses and a carnival.